Yuri Samodurov, a former Moscow museum director, and the art curator Andrei Yerofeev, are due in court on Friday, facing charges of inciting hatred and offending human dignity - that could see them jailed for up to five years - after organizing a Moscow exhibition called Forbidden Art 2006.
International artists and writers have joined forces to write an open letter to Russia’s President Medvedev, expressing their deep concern at the criminal charges being brought against the two men.
Intended to promote a debate on censorship and contemporary art in Russia, the exhibition gathered together works that had been refused inclusion at various exhibitions in Russia during 2006.
The open letter, signed by such artists and writers as Irish writer Roddy Doyle, UK playwright Tom Stoppard, French journalist and essayist Galia Ackerman and Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, said:
"We are concerned and disturbed that in bringing the charges against both men that the guarantee of freedom of expression in the Russian Constitution is being set at naught. International human rights law does not permit, still less require, freedom of expression to be restricted or prohibited simply on the grounds that some people find the views expressed offensive."
"Russia is a secular state where, under current law, everyone is guaranteed freedom of religious or atheist 'belief' and where everyone can freely choose, have or disseminate religious or atheist views. International law does not permit restrictions of the expression of opinions or beliefs, which stray from the religious beliefs of the majority of the population or the State-prescribed religion."
The letter concluded: "We firmly believe that Andrei Yerofeev and Yurii Samodurov should not be prosecuted and we call upon the Russian authorities to respect their right to freedom of expression."
Amnesty International has called on the Russian authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and to stop the criminal prosecution of Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev.
The full list of signatories to the open letter is:
Galia Ackerman (journalist and essayist, France)
Roddy Doyle(writer, Ireland)
Boris Groys (professor and art critic, Germany)
Enrique Juncosa (Director of Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Ireland)
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov(Russian artists, USA)
Julia Kisina (artist, Ukraine)
Azar Nafisi (academic and writer, Iran)
Peter Sis (writer, artist, illustrator, Czech Republic)
Tom Stoppard (playwright, UK)
Ludmila Ulitskaya (writer, Russia)